Le Labo Iris 39 : Perfume Review

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Iris_sketch

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Explaining why I should have liked Le Labo Iris 39 is much easier than describing why it did not appeal to me. Iris is one of the most fascinating notes in its ability to weave floral and woody elements into a fragrance with wonderful complexity and depth. Although usually incorporated as a supporting note, iris has been increasingly treated as a soliflore. The exciting results of such efforts are beautifully demonstrated by fragrances like Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist and The Different Company Bois d’Iris. Another reason to have high hopes for Iris 39 is that Frank Voelkl, the perfumer who created it, is also the nose behind Three As Four, the delicately orchestrated iris and ginger vignette.

Iris 39 is interesting in that it deviates from the conventional cold iris theme by marrying the hot dryness of patchouli with the metallic chill of orris. The floral accord is accented with orange blossom, the sweetness of which is further amplified by the rich musky base. The juxtaposition of notes is reminiscent of the classical red wine and cheese pairing. Just as the tannic dryness serves as a perfect foil for the milky sweetness, the layer of warm patchouli makes the iris note unfold smoothly. …

However, the interesting aspect of Iris 39 is only a quick glimpse in the course of its development. For the first half an hour, it retains a quality that evokes the word “perfumey”—an amalgamation of indistinct notes with an aldehydic touch. The drydown, on the other hand, is strangely bland after the exciting interplay of notes in the heart. Ultimately, as a composition, it seems more of a sketch than a finished painting.

The fragrances and discovery kits are available directly from Le Labo website, as well as from their store at 223 Elizabeth Street in Nolita (212- 219-2230).

Iris sketch from ruskin.oucs.ox.ac.uk.

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28 Comments

  • Prince Barry: Funnily enough, Iris39 is one of my favourites from Le Labo’s fine repertoir of fragrances. It evokes the scent of violets growing in a woodland glade. The patchouli adding the earthy scent of the woodland floor. April 28, 2006 at 2:33am Reply

  • Judith: Like Barry, I really like the woody/flower feeling to Iris39; I find it strangely beautiful. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite from the line (I’m stuck on Patchouli), and I don’t know that I will rebuy it when my 5 ml. runs out, but I very much enjoy wearing it, and have received several compliments on it. April 28, 2006 at 8:20am Reply

  • Marina: I thought that Iris 39 was so very lovely. However, it was very simple on my skin, a pretty soliflore. And there is nothing whatsoever wrong with simple or soliflore, it is just that I cannot justify spending this kind of money on such a simple scent (the same goes for Jasmine 17), when there are other, more interesting fragrances in Le Labo line. April 28, 2006 at 8:47am Reply

  • Ina: I really do love this one, too. It’s “dirty iris”, in my perception. The drydown also reminds me of Clinique Aromatics Elixir, for some odd reason. April 28, 2006 at 9:48am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Barry, it is a very lovely imagery. Unfortunately, it never attains that quality on me. At first, it is sharply synthetic and then it turns pale. You are lucky that it works so well on you. April 28, 2006 at 11:41am Reply

  • Prince Barry: I think that sometimes scents smell good on me because I have quite an oily skin. Even the much maligned Miel de Bois has been commented on favourably by colleagues saying that it smells like Stargazer Lillies on me. April 28, 2006 at 11:49am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, I was happy with it until the drydown, when the interesting juxtaposition of notes was lost. I find that my skin speeds up the process, but on paper it happens too, albeit less quickly. That being said, other than Patchouli (and perhaps Vetiver, but I need to give it more trials), I do not find myself that enchanted with Le Labo fragrances. They are done in the style that I do not find particularly interesting–linear, simple stories. Many are quite lovely (Rose, Bergamote, Jasmin), but I crave something that keeps me guessing a little, that gives me a pleasure of discovering yet another facet. Of course, most of the niche fragrances are now done in this style, and it might that I am getting slightly exasperated with the trend. I do not want poetry, I want novels. 🙂 Of course, I realize that not everyone does, and it is great that we have lots of options right now. April 28, 2006 at 11:54am Reply

  • violetnoir: I love 3as4, but the line so far has failed to capture my interest.

    Hugs! April 28, 2006 at 11:56am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, I know what you mean. I also find it difficult to spend close to $200 on a simple soliflore, unless it is very special like L’Artisan Fleur d’Oranger seems to this lover of orange blossoms. In this case, I can think of other more interesting irises, such as Three As Four. April 28, 2006 at 12:01pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ina, I am sulking that I cannot find dirt in it. It is interesting about Aromatics Elixir, and actually I can see the resemblance too now that you mention it. April 28, 2006 at 12:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R (violetnoir), well, these days I am happy to discover that I do not like something. It is better for my financial well-being. April 28, 2006 at 12:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Barry, I understand that oily skin can retain the scent better. Seems like even Miel de Bois works great on you! April 28, 2006 at 12:14pm Reply

  • Patty: It’s too bad the scent has not lived up to expectation, but after all, Iris Silver Mist is untouchable among irises. xxx April 28, 2006 at 2:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Patty, Iris Silver Mist is definitely among the best irises. Of course, as far as iris dominant fragrances go, Chanel No.19 reigns supreme for me. April 28, 2006 at 2:59pm Reply

  • biagio: victoria i totally agree with you i dont find le labo frags so impressing and i dont see the reason to spend a lot of money on fragrances that seems to last one minute on my skin April 28, 2006 at 5:11pm Reply

  • Katie: Interesting. I tend to perceive iris as earthy anyhow (that’s just how it “reads” to me usually, not necessarily some inherent quality of it) but paired with patch like that does sound interesting. I’m still curious about how they maintain consistency and quality control by diluting it “fresh” every time, and I half way wonder if this is not partly why there’s some slight divergences of opinion about their scents. Well, I mean, after just accounting for different noses and different skin chemistry and all that, that is ;)It seems to me like by doing so, people will all be trying it out and wearing it during different stages of its final maturation, perhaps, depending on when they finally put it on? I may have it all wrong on that count, though, of course. April 28, 2006 at 6:29pm Reply

  • Diane: Well, I love iris–love it in Iris Silver Mist, Hiris, and I concur, it is simply unparalleled in No. 19. Now I haven’t tried anything in the Le Labo line, but your review is not making me rush. Just as well, there is so much for me to catch up on. April 28, 2006 at 6:42pm Reply

  • Diane: Katie, I agree on “earthy” being associated with iris. I also perceive it as coolly ethereal, as it is often interwoven into an aldehydic floral accord. V, of course, will weigh in with her expertise, but to me, it’s the duality of iris and the complexity therein that makes it one of my most favorite flowers in perfume. April 28, 2006 at 6:45pm Reply

  • Patty: Part of my post vanished! I remember when I lived in X from 1981-1983 it was nearly impossible to find perfumes that were commonplace elsewhere. I can’t recall seeing No. 19 once and I would have keeled over if I had seen Mitsouko. Has the situation improved any since then? The school was better than the shopping, as I am sure you realize. April 29, 2006 at 2:42am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Biagio, they last ok on me, but while they last, they are not particularly exciting. I am still working through my fourth round of testing them, and so far only Patchouli seems interesting. April 29, 2006 at 1:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, I agree on iris having an earthy quality. So, does patchouli, however patchouli is hot and dry, while iris is a colder note. Therefore, the pairing is exciting. In this case, the idea does not seem to develop well, but overall, it is interesting.

    As for diluting fresh, I am not that familiar with the process, but it seems strange. On the other hand, it is very rare for noses to give up their formulas, and if they would be willing to do so, then I am not surprised that the results are not as exciting as I hoped they would be. April 29, 2006 at 1:07pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, I cannot think of anything that can rival the beauty and complexity of No.19. I treasure every drop of my parfum. April 29, 2006 at 1:08pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, yes, I cannot agree more. The complexity of iris on its own is incredible, and this is what makes it such a fascinating note to explore. April 29, 2006 at 1:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Patty, I sent you an email, but bounced back to me. April 29, 2006 at 1:18pm Reply

  • paradise: iris silver mist is not only one of my top irises, it’s one of my favorite scents ever. i haven’t tried Iris39 but what is this No.19 everyone is talking about? sorry, my perfume knowledge is limited as i’ve just recently become a scent fanatic…:-( April 29, 2006 at 1:45pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Paradise, glad to see another Iris Silver Mist fan! No. 19 is by Chanel. If you are not familiar with it, here is some more information on the fragrance:
    http://boisdejasmin.typepad.com/_/2006/03/chanel_no_19.html

    I absolutely adore it! April 29, 2006 at 1:51pm Reply

  • paradise: thanks victoria!

    btw, i just visited your “about” page and i’m impressed with your interest in the chemical side of perfume. which after all is essentially what scents are. i was a biochem major back in college but i didn’t develop my love of perfume until the beginning of this year. i only wish that i was as interested in perfume back then as i am now. it probably would’ve gotten me through the dark days of organic chem when i kept thinking to myself, “when is any of this stuff going to be really applicable to me?!!” unfortunately our nutty professor felt the need to concentrate on pharmaceutical uses. blah! like that’s important. 😉 April 29, 2006 at 6:10pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Paradise, thank you for your nice words. I have to credit my organic chemistry teacher at school and her lecture on aldehydes for sparking my interest in perfumery (I made the connection myself). I love reading on this topic, and it is always interesting to encounter others who do as well. I also find interesting testing various raw materials (both natural and synthetic), because it makes me understand better how the fragrances are constructed. April 29, 2006 at 6:16pm Reply

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